Capitol Alert

California bill aims to ban marijuana use while driving

How does an officer recognize a stoned driver?

After California's passage of the Proposition 64 recreational marijuana initiative, authorities are on guard for impaired drivers for alcohol, pot, prescription drugs or all of the above. A Highway Patrol training supervisor explains the challenge
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After California's passage of the Proposition 64 recreational marijuana initiative, authorities are on guard for impaired drivers for alcohol, pot, prescription drugs or all of the above. A Highway Patrol training supervisor explains the challenge

While pot may be legal, two California legislators want to outlaw the “country cruise.”

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, introduced legislation Thursday outlawing smoking marijuana while operating a vehicle.

The legislators say Senate Bill 65 will close a loophole in Proposition 64, the November ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana use in California. The law says it’s illegal to have an open container of pot in a car, but didn’t address using marijuana while driving, according to Hill and Low.

Cracking down on drunk driving has been a priority for Hill, who passed a law last year requiring temporary breathalyzers in the cars of some DUI offenders in order to receive their driver’s licenses back. Known as an “ignition interlock device,” the breathalyzer prevents a car from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit.

“I have a real passion for solving our impaired driving in California from substance abuse,” Hill said. “I don’t want to go in a positive direction on one end and open up the door for deaths on the other end.”

Current law bans driving while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. But unlike a breathalyzer test for alcohol, there’s no standard method to determine marijuana impairment. Urine samples, which are often used in drug-free workplaces, are unable to determine whether someone is under the influence of marijuana at the time of the test or if the drug remained in their system from prior use. Proposition 64 required the California Highway Patrol and UC researchers to develop “protocols and best practices” for detecting those impaired from drug use.

If the bill passes, driving while using marijuana may result in an infraction or misdemeanor charge as well as possible drug or alcohol education and counseling classes.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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